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_ Raised Access Floors

Coventry University
Engineering & Computing Faculty Building


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Coventry University  Engineering & Computing Faculty Building


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Client - Coventry
University Architects - Arup Associates
Approx Value - £55m
Total Floor Area - 14,000 sq m

The new faculty includes Laboratories, Offices, Teaching Spaces, Lecture Theatres, Breakout Spaces, Conference Room, Cafe, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team designed Wind Tunnel, a Harrier Jump Jet Aircraft and Three Flight Simulators.

The Building has been designed for the "21st Century graduate".

"MERO-Schmidlin UK have helped greatly to achieve a project that is both dynamic and apparently effortless, this is a hallmark of good design and coordination"
Sean Macintosh, Arup Associates


Brief Design and construct an innovative 'Flagship' building to BREEAM excellent status which will be used to educate the designers and engineers of tomorrow, whilst also being a tangible template for top quality construction design & engineering. Quite a challenge for Arup Associates Architects but help was at hand.

The design brief from the client was very demanding, to create a top quality multi-functional facility to house lecture theatres, workshops, classrooms and combined social learning areas built to the highest possible sustainability standards achieving BREEAM Excellent rating. The fundamental principal was that not only does it need to be a building the students will learn in, but also learn from. Here was a blank canvas which should allow the engineers of tomorrow the freedom to explore and interact with the building as to, use of space, environmental control, sustainability and selection of materials. The building needs to inspire and motivate the students but also with its naturally ventilated 'didactic' skin, become a living breathing (literally) showcase for building materials and their implementation. The new faculty will also house a £2.6m ERDF sponsored centre supporting the development of sustainable construction technologies.

One of the main challenges was to mix these materials, design and best practise in installation without the building resembling a metaphorical patchwork quilt. This has been achieved externally by the use of natural anodised rain screen cladding for its highly durable quality and aesthetics. The design concept was intended to push the boundaries of both materials and installation. The cladding was required to interact with the window hoods and brise soleil in addition to housing the opening windows, which form part of the mixed mode natural ventilation strategy for teaching areas and combined social - learning spaces.

One of the BREEAM prerequisites was not only the use of natural materials but also that they should be sustainably sourced. This resulted in a requirement for a complex mixture of engineered timber mullions and transoms which tend to be a more common component in mainland Europe than they are currently in the UK. A specialist organisation, MERO-Schmidlin (UK) PLC, the Camberley based Bespoke Facade Contractors were called upon to offer their design capability and bespoke engineered building envelope system. The facade was not only complicated because of its geometry but also included the utilising of a multi zoned drainage system and interior engineered timber panels. MSUK's design team were able to call upon the considerable combined MERO Group expertise in both Germany & Switzerland working with the project architect, Sean Macintosh of Arup Associates, to offer a redesign of the radical façade structure whilst maintaining the desired abstract geometric appearance. The internal support system was revised to simplify the framing and some of the aluminium extrusion mullions were changed to steel by the design team to meet fire requirements. The reassurance of working with the MERO design team, whose portfolio includes the Scottish Parliament Building, Heathrow Terminal Three and similar projects at Dublin City University and Chessington Community College, was appreciated by all parties. The systems and components have been continually developed in Germany and Switzerland since the 1930's and are used by all of the MERO network of production facilities stretching from mainland Europe to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai.

Whilst the first port of call for most architects are of course manufacturers, the added benefit of a Bespoke System Design capability from experienced contractors was paramount in achieving a design that met the aesthetic aspirations of the client and architects in addition to being a value engineered solution in its installation. The high performance façade achieved as a result of the redesign was central to achieving the required BREEAM status as well as meeting the sound absorption requirements by use of integrated acoustic insulation and perforated engineered timber panels internally.

Producing a building which is to be a benchmark for Design & Engineering has to be founded on correct principals and this was certainly a great example. Arup Associates worked with 3D modelling, samples, mock ups and extensive material testing to make sure all materials and installation practises met the very highest standards.

With any other manufacturer or contractor the façade package alone would have been a very worthwhile contribution but MSUK's other division were on the proverbial sub's bench awaiting their opportunity. The Raised Access Flooring division headed by Neil Burrows were called up to deal with the internal undulations within the site to continue the design and sustainability brief.

The complicated geometrics are not just limited to the outside of the building. The flooring is required to coordinate with the sloping facades requiring multiple levels throughout the faculty. This is of course an everyday challenge to a raised access flooring manufacturer and installer.

As with the façade, the combination of manufacturing and installation experience offered a great deal of technical input in both the design and fitting of the materials plus advice on their selection. In order to meet, and exceed, the very stringent requirements of the BREEAM excellent rating there was a multitude of additional demands over and above any 'normal' flooring installation. The Raised Access Flooring systems were required to incorporate integral under floor heating, using MSUK's calcium sulphate hollow floor system in communal areas, plus the addition of air plenums for the passive environmental controls. In some areas of the faculty the actual flooring area was raised by as much as 500mm to allow for all of the building service functions and the raised floors panels have been adapted to suit various floor coverings including ceramic and carpet tiles plus beech veneer, some of which were factory applied for programme efficiency.

On the sustainability issue required to meet the BREEAM scoring system, re-used ceramic tiles were incorporated with tiles manufactured from recycled porcelain along with the multitude of other surfaces fitted on to the raised backing panels. As part of the package award criteria MSUK were required to recover over 3,000 square metres of pre-used backing panels from a refurbishment project in London that might otherwise have gone into landfill. A great working example of building material reuse in action!

In addition to under floor heating and recycled material there was an enormous amount of precision required from the MSUK installation team. The interaction involved with other trades in addition to coordinating and protecting accessible areas is always a huge challenge on any building site. The most testing element was still to come, the construction of two auditoriums was to have very precise stepped levels involving meticulous setting out and installation. The whole area was to be constructed from MSUK's raised flooring system components to provide a stable platform for the tiered seating, whilst also delivering air circulation via slots cut into the fascia.

Arup Associates have first-hand experience of the enhanced contributions from working directly with specialist contractors and manufacturers who can offer high levels of design and installation expertise. Coventry University's Engineering & Computing facility was a great example of such teamwork. As with Ove Arup they are looking to 'Partner' organisations who are able to bring significant input to projects of this complexity in the future.

Sean Macintosh of Arup Associates was very appreciative of the assistance in the design and implementation of the building façade and raised access flooring.

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Coventry University
www.coventry.ac.uk
Arup Associates
www.arupassociates.com
MERO-Schmidlin (UK) PLC
www.MERO-schmidlin.com
Photography by Paul Scott
www.frontelevation.co.uk

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